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Opinion | The U.S. should reveal its intelligence about the Wuhan laboratory

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Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump missed no opportunity to bash China over the virus, trying to divert attention from Mr. Trump’s disastrous pandemic response. Setting aside this scapegoating, the origins of the coronavirus remain unknown. Did the virus leap directly from an animal host in nature to humans, which many scientists believe is highly likely, or from an inadvertent leak or accident at a Chinese laboratory, possibly the WIV? The answers will be important to prevent a future pandemic and must be pursued vigorously, even though China covered up the early stages of the pandemic and has advanced dubious theories to suggest it originated beyond China’s borders.

Mr. Pompeo issued a statement and fact sheet on Jan. 15 claiming the U.S. government “has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.” Mr. Pompeo does not categorically claim the workers had covid, only raising the possibility of that or seasonal illnesses, such as influenza. Both are respiratory illnesses.

If true, it would be useful to know if any workers were quarantined or if there is cellphone mobility data to track what happened to them.

Mr. Pompeo said the U.S. information “raises questions” about Chinese denials that the laboratory was the source. A senior researcher at the WIV, Shi Zhengli, was working on “gain of function” experiments, which involve modifying viral genomes to give them new properties, including the ability to infect lung cells of laboratory animals that had been genetically modified to respond as human respiratory cells would. Mr. Pompeo noted that China “prevented independent journalists, investigators, and global health authorities from interviewing researchers at the WIV, including those who were ill in the fall of 2019.” Matthew Pottinger, who was deputy national security adviser under Mr. Trump and is a China specialist, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday the Jan. 15 statement was “very carefully crafted” and “scrubbed” by the administration. The statement also claimed the WIV had been engaged in secret projects with China’s military involving laboratory animal experiments.

When a World Health Organization team recently wrapped up its initial investigative visit to Wuhan, the team leader said the laboratory leak scenario was highly unlikely. However, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Feb. 9 that the Biden administration would “draw on information collected and analyzed by our own intelligence community to evaluate the report” from the WHO. Mr. Price emphasized the need for “full transparency.”

Full transparency is needed from China but also from the United States. The intelligence behind Mr. Pompeo’s statements should be declassified, with proper protection for sources and methods. The truth matters, and the United States should not hide any relevant evidence.

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Why New York’s Last COVID Surge Was Far Less Deadly Than Its First

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from Gothamist.

For those who find themselves stuck inside worrying about the new variants of COVID-19 going around, the second wave of the virus in New York City might feel like deja vu.

Yet in some ways, this new surge has been much milder than the first. Far fewer New Yorkers have been hospitalized or died from COVID-19 this fall and winter than last spring, even though the number of total cases over the last three months was 40% more than the opening stanza of the pandemic. As the winter wave overwhelmed hospitals nationwide and thrust America’s death toll toward 500,000, medical centers in New York have been able to handle the surge.

So, what has changed? The fact that severe outcomes are less common raises thoughts of the city nearing herd immunity, but hospital leaders and infectious disease experts say the life-saving switch is due to more testing, better knowledge of the disease, and stronger preparation.

Better Medicine

“We look at it in our breakdown of data as three phases,” said Dr. David Reich, president and chief operating officer of Mount Sinai Hospital. Spring saw a massive surge of COVID-19 patients before cases slowed–but didn’t cease–over the summer. October ushered in a second flood of cases that began cresting in early January.

But mortality rates in New York City steadily declined after peaking in May at 11%. The case-fatality rate kept dropping even during the last surge, and by early February, was down to 4%.

“There are a few possible reasons for that,” Reich said. “The first is that in the spring there was just nothing in the way of therapeutics and we had no idea what to do. People were given drugs that turned out to be useless like hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin and a few others.”

Now, Reich said, health care providers have a better sense of what works, even though research on certain practices and medicines remain ongoing. For instance, Mount Sinai has started giving some patients blood thinners because its staff observed clotting in a portion of COVID-19 patients.

“Even though the literature is still evolving, it looks like at least a subset of patients do better with anticoagulation,” Reich said. Similarly, he said, “The drugs people commonly refer to as steroids…seem to be effective to a certain extent in patients who are more advanced in the disease.”

Better Preparation

Another factor in improved outcomes is that hospitals are less overwhelmed this time around because they are better prepared.

Per state criteria, hospitals had to maintain a certain number of empty beds in order to have surge capacity for a second wave. And hospital systems have also implemented new plans for moving patients between facilities in order to balance the patient load.

NYC Health + Hospitals, the city’s public hospital system, transferred nearly 500 patients among its 11 hospitals between November and the end of January.

This “steady movement of patients has helped the system manage capacity as facilities convert units to COVID-19-only units or move into the additional surge spaces that are part of our plan,” Dr. Mitchell Katz, President and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, wrote in a January 28th report to the hospital system’s Board of Directors.

“[In the spring], there weren’t enough critical care facilities in many circumstances to take care of acutely ill patients, so on top of everything else, the overwhelming of the hospital system was one of the contributing factors [in patient outcomes],” Reich said.

Katz noted that the city health system didn’t see the same spike in COVID-19 patients as it did in the spring, but rather a steady increase over recent months, which “has made this surge much different and more manageable.”

Patients arriving at the hospital are also generally less sick than they were at the start of the pandemic, Katz said. He noted that this, “combined with new therapeutics and other interventions, has reduced mortality significantly.”

Widely available testing for COVID-19 has likely made a difference in transmission and hospitalization rates.

“It’s the first step to actually interrupting further spread,” Dr. David Chokshi, the city health commissioner, said in December, adding, “Once someone tests positive, we very quickly help them isolate.”

A much smaller share of COVID-19 tests are coming back positive now than in the spring, although that figure is impacted by the fact that, early on, the few tests that were available were primarily given to people who were already experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Herd Immunity? Not quite yet.

Fewer positive tests and lower rates of severe symptoms raise the question of whether the New York region is close to achieving herd immunity. The more immune systems build defenses against COVID-19, the closer a community comes to interrupting the coronavirus’s ability to cause worse outcomes or spread from person to person. The vaccine campaign is aiding this quest, but a number of New Yorkers gained immunity last spring when the virus swept through essentially unimpeded.

“If there were no immunity by natural infection, we would be seeing a lot more people who have already been infected getting infected again,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious disease specialist at Columbia University.

It’s still unclear exactly how much natural immunity comes with a coronavirus infection, or how long that immunity lasts. But so far, reinfections have been extremely rare, with one recent large-scale study of U.K health care workers reporting a rate of 1%. Among this group, the researchers estimated that prior infection reduced the odds of a second bout by 83%. While there have been documented instances of people getting reinfected with COVID-19, for the most part people getting sick now did not have it before, experts say.

As of February 19th, about 684,630 people have had confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York City, but Shaman and other infectious disease experts say these diagnostic tests likely only capture a fraction of total cases. Based on a predictive model Shaman developed with other researchers at Columbia University, the total number of cases in New York City may be five times that amount.

That would mean some 2.8 million people in the city, or about a third of the population, have already been infected. Viviana Simon, a professor of microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, says her research lab also reports an estimate in that ballpark, with between 20% and 25% of city residents infected. Add another 400,000 city residents who’ve been fully vaccinated as of February 22nd, and you’re only tacking on another 3 percent or so.

“That’s not enough for herd immunity. It needs to be at least 75% to 80% for herd immunity, so vaccines will be essential for us,” Simon said.

Simon and Shaman attribute the milder second surge primarily to an increased volume of testing, meaning cases can be caught earlier before the disease spreads, and clinical interventions at hospitals. Better compliance with measures like social distancing and mask wearing may also have made a difference.

“The problem is that in winter the virus is more transmissible,” Shaman said. “It innately appears to transmit more efficiently in drier, colder air and people are indoors more and may be more complacent with controls.”

He said it’s still unclear whether COVID-19 will end up being a seasonal virus like the flu or follow another pattern.

Reich said that while the second wave hasn’t been as bad and Mount Sinai’s surge has already plateaued, it hasn’t been a picnic either. He added that more research on effective treatments is still needed because it is “still a scary disease” that kills one of every 10 hospitalized patients. “I wouldn’t want to take those odds for anyone I love,” Reich added.

“It’s hard on staff because it’s just such a long marathon for them,” he said. “There’s no light at the end of the tunnel just yet.”

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3:49 PM 2/22/2021 – Opinion—How will we look back on the Capitol breach?

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from The News And Times.

3:49 PM 2/22/2021

Michael Novakhov’s favorite articles on Inoreader
In twenty years, thirty years, how will we look back at the beginning of 2021? I think the breach of the U.S. Capitol will be one of the most significant … police or other law enforcement officers who attended the demonstration on Jan. … Each of the rioters will continue to be under investigation until they are …

From: ReutersVideo
Duration: 01:59

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said that Merrick Garland, the nominee for attorney general, if confirmed, would oversee a Justice Department at an ‘existential moment’ after it became the ‘Trump Department of Justice’ in the last four years.

#Garland #USPolitics #News


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Judge Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s pick to be attorney general, arrives on Capitol Hill for his confirmation hearing, in Washington, Monday, …

At his confirmation hearing on Monday, Judge Merrick B. Garland promised to focus on prosecuting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot attack with the same …

What’s the Justice Department Actually For?

This time around, Judge Merrick Garland is getting his hearing.

Not only is President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general receiving a Senate audience, but his confirmation seems very likely, a second difference from his 2016 nomination to the Supreme Court, which was stymied by then–Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But there’s still an important question at stake in Garland’s nomination, and if confirmed, in his work as attorney general. The Trump presidency has both underscored and made more urgent a running debate over what exactly the U.S. Department of Justice is for.

“I think being attorney general has got to be the toughest job in the United States government, because you serve at pleasure of president, but you also have an obligation … to equal justice and impartial enforcement of the law,” Senator John Cornyn, the Republican from Texas, told Garland during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this morning.

[Jane Chong: Donald Trump’s strange and dangerous “absolute rights” idea]

That neatly frames the dilemma. For years, the department has veered, sometimes aggressively, between being more or less in thrall to the White House. Under President Donald Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr, the department was arguably less independent than at any time since John F. Kennedy’s brother led it. Trump asserted an “absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.” Barr, a long-time proponent of presidential power, generally endorsed and enabled Trump’s moves. Biden has promised to restore a greater degree of independence, and Garland’s prepared opening statement reads as an extended subtweet of the Trump-Barr Justice Department.

Trump complained that he didn’t “have an attorney general” when Jeff Sessions, his first pick for that role, recused himself from the Russia investigation. Trump also told The New York Times, “I don’t want to get into loyalty, but … I will say this: [Attorney General Eric] Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him.” (Holder disputed this, saying, “I had a president I did not have to protect.”) But Garland, for his part, said that “the president nominates the attorney general to be the lawyer—not for any individual, but for the people of the United States.”

Garland’s statement also praised “policies that protect the independence of the Department from partisan influence in law-enforcement investigations; that strictly regulate communications with the White House; … that respect the professionalism of DOJ’s career employees; and that set out principles of federal prosecution to guide the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.” These are all areas where Trump far overstepped norms—if not necessarily the law—in meddling with the department.

Garland told senators that he believes (and says Biden has pledged) that prosecutions and investigations should be handled independently of the White House, but policy questions are dictated by the president (as long as they are constitutional, he was quick to point out). As to whether a president could order an investigation to be opened or closed, Garland said: “This is a hard question of constitutional law, but I do not expect it to be a question for me.”

[David A. Graham: Bill Barr’s departure reveals the hollowness of Trumpism]

If the new job might allow Garland to sidestep tough constitutional-law questions, it will present plenty of challenges of its own. Justice Department independence has always been more of a political continuum than a clear binary. Janet Reno, who served as Bill Clinton’s attorney general, got drawn into highly political fights, such as the one over Elián González, the boy whose mother died while attempting to escape Cuba with him, and who was ultimately returned to his father on the island. Under George W. Bush, the Justice Department fired seven U.S. attorneys for insufficient political fealty, and stocked the Civil Rights Division with political hacks. Investigations concluded that while inappropriate, neither of these moves was illegal. Moreover, the interference in both cases was not directly in the realm of investigations or prosecutions, where Garland drew his line.

Garland is looking further back for a predecessor who can be a role model: Edward Levi, whom Gerald Ford appointed attorney general after the Watergate scandal. Levi was viewed as a paragon of integrity and independence who did not bow to political pressure and who restored the department’s standing. He also instituted many of the norms for insulating the department that Trump shredded. Garland cited Levi when Biden nominated him, and he is touting endorsements from Levi’s sons, both accomplished lawyers in their own right.

A different way to think about Garland’s vision for the role is that he’d be somewhat akin to the head of an independent federal agency. There are a number of commissions and other bodies where the president appoints a leader and the Senate confirms her, but once she’s in office, she serves a set term rather than at the pleasure of the president, and is not subject to presidential direction.

“I do not regard myself as anything other than the lawyer for the people of the United States,” Garland said. Noting that some senators had asked why he’d leave a lifetime appointment on the federal bench to become attorney general, he explained the decision as one designed to serve the long-term interests of the department’s work: “This is an important time for me to step forward because of my deep respect for the Department of Justice and its critical role in ensuring the rule of law.”

This idea of the role is naturally similar to being a federal judge. After nearly 25 years on the bench, Garland isn’t accustomed to working for anyone or having to worry about political considerations. (Garland worked at the Justice Department under Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and was an assistant U.S. attorney in D.C.)

But politics will intrude, and soon. The second questioner at today’s hearing was the ranking member Chuck Grassley, who asked Garland for assurances that he wouldn’t meddle with John Durham, a U.S. attorney appointed to investigate the origins of the FBI’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. (Garland said he had no plans to meddle, but wouldn’t commit.) Garland also faced questioning about how he would handle White House pressure about an investigation into Hunter Biden, the president’s son. (Garland said Joe Biden had assured him it would be up to the Justice Department.)

Senator Ted Cruz complained during today’s hearing that under President Barack Obama, “the Department of Justice was politicized and weaponized in a way that was directly contrary to over a century of tradition of the Department of Justice being apolitical, and not a partisan tool to target your opponents.” It is rich to hear such complaints from Cruz and other Republicans who tacitly or explicitly endorsed Trump’s handling of the department, especially Trump’s efforts to get friends such as Roger Stone and Paul Manafort off the hook from prosecution. (Is there any doubt that Trump would have tried to intervene if his children had been the target of a Justice Department investigation? And does anyone think most Republican senators would have publicly objected?)

But Cruz’s remarks hint at where Garland’s vision of the department might run into friendly fire. While Garland has pledged to aggressively prosecute those involved in the January 6 insurrection in Washington, the anti-Trump “Resistance” wants to see the Justice Department forcefully pursue Trump, his family, and his cronies. Biden has already renounced any role in making such decisions, leaving the matter to his attorney general—which means that it will be Garland who has to grapple with demands for these politically incendiary moves.

Meanwhile, the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party has raised questions about Garland’s bench record on civil liberties, deeming him too friendly to law enforcement, and about whether he is sufficiently committed to an expansive approach to voting issues. (The picks of Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke, who have strong progressive records on these issues, for top DOJ jobs may ease those worries.) More broadly, there’s been a movement in progressive circles toward a new vision of prosecutors who are more politically engaged and working for social justice. While that effort has been focused mostly at the local level, Garland’s old-school approach to prosecution is not in step with it.

[David A. Graham: Joe Biden’s restoration campaign]

More broadly still, questions about the role of the Justice Department serve as a proxy for questions among Democrats about how government should work. On one side are those who believe that Biden’s administration should strive to return to the pre-Trump status quo. On the other are those who despise Trump’s policies but believe that going back to the supposedly good old ways will just enable the next Trump. Instead, they contend, Democrats should seek to wield the same tools Trump did, only for good. Anything less amounts to unilateral disarmament.

Biden has staked his place in the first camp. He managed to defeat a more forward-looking Democratic field on that promise, then won the presidency on it. It stands to reason that he’d pick an attorney general who agrees. But Biden is already facing pressure from restive parts of his coalition, and if he’s confirmed, Garland will also face demands to be more political and to get his hands dirtier.

“I do not plan to be interfered with by anyone,” Garland told the Judiciary Committee today. No attorney general does, though. The question is how he reacts when the plan falls apart.

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Russia says it’s open to better ties with EU despite chill  Martinsville Bulletin

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Duration: 17:13

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson claims “there is light ahead, leading us to a spring and a summer full of hope,” in his latest government briefing.

He re-iterated the roadmap out of lockdown that he set out in the House Of Commons earlier.

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The family of US Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick is still awaiting … to the riots on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at the US Capitol and was injured … Investigators consider whether an adverse reaction to bear spray may have …

From: skynews
Duration: 03:01

Boris Johnson is asked whether he would resign if he has to impose a fourth coronavirus lockdown.

The prime minister says his ‘intention’ is for the easing of lockdown to be ‘irreversible’ – but he ‘can’t guarantee’ it.

He says the five-week interval between each stage of the lockdown lifting plan will allow the government to ‘look at the data’ and ‘proceed cautiously’.

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M.N.: Und what would ZIZ mean? Any Interpretations? | Аргументы и Факты: Путин и Лукашенко покатались на лыжах и снегоходах в Красной Поляне posted at 16:23:49 UTC

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from The Brooklyn News And Times.

M.N.: Und what would ZIZ mean? Any Interpretations? 

Аргументы и Факты: Путин и Лукашенко покатались на лыжах и снегоходах в Красной Поляне

После прогулки в горах главы государств пообщались в неформальной обстановке – за обедом.


Brooklyn News Review from Michael Novakhov on Inoreader
NPR News: 02-22-2021 11AM ET

Feed Store Fire | SAN BERNARDINO, CA 2.19.21

SAN BERNARDINO, CALIFORNIA – On Friday morning, February 19, 2021 the San Bernardino County Fire Department responded to reports of a commercial structure fire at a pet store. The fire was reported around 1:33am at Granero’s Feed & Pet store in the 1300 block of W. 9th Street. The first arriving engine company reported heavy smoke and fire coming from the single story commercial building. Firefighters made an aggressive fire attack however, the fire was able to spread to a nearby appliance store. Unconfirmed reports indicated at least one dog was found alive and several animals may have perished in the fire. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.


DTLA Crash Traps | LOS ANGELES, CA 2.20.21

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Four cars crashed at the intersection leaving two drivers trapped in their cars. The two drivers, in a blue hatchback and silver pickup truck, were extricated out of their cars and transported to the hospital with one reportedly in critical condition. Two others were also transported to the hospital. It is not known how the crash occurred. The Metro Red line has been shut for an unknown amount of time, as the crash ended up on the tracks.